Richmond's film scene is small enough to fit inside a lounge on Broad Street, yet large enough to take on an international competition.
That dichotomy played out Friday evening, July 27, when local filmmakers gathered at The Camel, waiting for the city's first 48 Hour Film Project (48HFP) to begin.
The competition gives teams 48 hours to write, shoot, edit and finesse a four- to seven-minute film.
The project, which started six years ago in Washington, D.C., has spread to more than 60 cities worldwide, from Brisbane to Tokyo, and just this year made it to Richmond, a two-hour drive from the original.
Citywide competitions are spread over weekends throughout the year, culminating in an international contest for all the "Best in City" winners. Last weekend Richmond joined in the madness with Miami, Providence, R.I., and Des Moines, Iowa.
"I thought they were crazy when they told me to get 24 teams in Richmond, Virginia," says Ellie St. John, the producer for Richmond's 48HFP. But St. John encountered plenty of local interest, and she wound up with a roster of 37 teams.
The teams drew genres out of a hat, and you could hear the sounds of hearts breaking as groups lamented getting stuck with "Romance" or "Holiday" films, while others cheered over comedies and dramas. The entire room, filled mostly with men probably unable to carry a tune, clapped and howled each time a team drew either of the two most feared: "Musical/Western" and "Film de Femme" (about a strong female character).
After the drawing, St. John opened an envelope from the 48HFP headquarters that contained the weekend's final three ingredients. All of the teams had to include the same character (a historian named Cliff or Claudia Foust); prop (a pencil); and line of dialogue ("I was thinking the same thing").
Style followed three teams while they struggled to create a bite-sized blockbuster:
The Man: Local ad firm The Martin Agency, who taught us that even cavemen can sell car insurance. "Are they on our team?" asks group leader Steve Humble, referring to the handful of Martin Agency employees at The Camel, some of whom were working in other groups.
The Underdogs: Westbound Studios, a group of young film enthusiasts eager to flee Richmond for the polluted wonderland that is Los Angeles. "[We have] the element of surprise," says Zack Matzganis, one of the leaders. "We just kind of moseyed into the film festival."
The Wild Cards: LionHeart FilmWorks, a company versed in historical films that entered the competition committed to doing a Western set in the 1850s -- though, director Kevin Hershberger explains, the film may not stay in the 1850s. "We've got this whole idea to do a time-travel twist at the end," he says.
7:30 p.m.: The Camel empties, and the teams drive off to coffeehouses, bat caves or wherever it is that filmmakers go to write.
9:30 p.m.: Westbound Studios, which drew "Spy," has its entire script figured out. Now there's just the writing. They decide to make a 1950s-style documentary called "How to Be a Spy." "It's supposed to be kind of serious," Matzganis says, "but it's serious to the 1950s and '60s, while we can look at this and laugh."
10 p.m.: LionHeart FilmWorks, which drew "Film de Femme," is still working out its plot. "Ms. Claudia Foust is a historian from the future," Hershberger says. "The pencil, I don't know yet." The script is finally finished at 3 a.m. Saturday with the title "Fury."
Saturday, 5:30 a.m.: The Martin Agency, which drew the "Detective/Cop" genre, finishes writing. "It's a very disjointed, conceptual film," producer Brian Camp says, alluding to multiple plot twists. How many? "Potentially five," he says "if you get it."
8 a.m.: Westbound Studios begins filming. Throughout the day, it films at Byrd Park, the Science Museum of Virginia, Clayton Homes and a handful of other locations; some of these are filmed from a car, an exercise in what you might call "drive-by shooting." Crew members also stop for a quick shot at Atlee Library, where they have to whisper.
9 a.m.: LionHeart FilmWorks drives 35 miles into Goochland County to film on the abandoned set of HBO's "John Adams" miniseries. The crew members will be here all day, surrounded by flies and ticks and crickets, most of the group sweating in authentic 19th-century costuming. Along with the actors, there are two horses (one of the horse wranglers is also an actor) and a cacophony of explosions, from pneumatic body-squibs (fake gunshots) to a handful of fiery blasts. Around 11 a.m., the team begins combining characters' death scenes to save time.
2 p.m.: The Martin Agency team members drive from their first location, Sam Miller's pub, to their only other location, a house in what they call the Fan (but is actually the West End). Two indoor locations might seem like playing it safe, but at around 7 p.m., when the clouds open up, it's good to be the Martin Agency.
7 p.m.: LionHeart has to slow down its filming to deal with the wind and, eventually, rain. The shift in weather is ultimately a plus because it coincides with the appearance of the villain at the film's end. "It couldn't have been written any better," assistant director John D. Bert says. The team had trouble with the weather earlier, too, when the humidity caused a character's fake neck wound to peel off.
Sunday, 4:30 a.m.: Westbound Studios soldiers on after some earlier problems: "We lost our boom mic, so we had a broom mic," says Jason Lucas, one of the leaders.
9 a.m.: LionHeart finishes editing after working all night (with an hour-long break for sleeping). Next up is sound design at Plant Zero, which will help all of the stitched-together shots seem like one long scene.
11 a.m.: The Martin Agency's cell phones are all turned off. They're pressed for time.
1 p.m.: Westbound Studios has split the editing in half, and Lucas is preparing to make the film cohesive. "Honestly, I've probably slept about 30 minutes in the last 48 hours," he says. The team finishes early and hands in its film at The Camel at 6 p.m.
7:15 p.m.: LionHeart FilmWorks turns in its finished product, "Fury." It's six minutes, 59 seconds and 15 frames long one frame short of the limit. The team had plans to finish at 5 p.m., but a 3 p.m. computer crash led to some last-minute scrambling.
7:25 p.m.: The Martin Agency turns in its movie, "Last Call," which has a few problems with sound. A team member dashes in at 7:32 p.m. with a clean copy, but it's too late.
7:29 p.m.: Another team that walked into The Camel with an open laptop realizes that its DVD isn't going to burn in time. "Can they turn in their computer?" someone asks.
7:30 p.m.: Thirty of the 37 teams have turned in their films on time, which is about normal for the 48HFP. St. John shouts, "You can sleep now!" and all the filmmakers run home to sleep, probably until the screening. S
The 48 Hour Film Project entries will be screened and judged Saturday, Aug. 4, at the Byrd Theatre. There are screenings at 10:30 a.m., 1 p.m. and 3 p.m. for $6 each. Call 353-9911 or visit www.48hourfilm.com/richmond.
In the interest of full disclosure, Style Arts & Culture Editor Brandon Reynolds stayed up all weekend with TheBranchingFilms, which drew the "Horror" genre.